Planning Thanksgiving Dinner – Step Two

The no-rush plan to your best Thanksgiving dinner ever.

Thanksgiving bean casserole

Last week we started planning for the big holiday event ahead, so you hopefully have some idea of exactly who is coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner.

This week we do the fun stuff – deciding on a menu! This step takes a little longer and requires the most thought, but it also gives us the opportunity to practice our creativity.

So, to get started:

Decide on your menu theme

Will you be serving an old-fashioned traditional dinner with turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, soft rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie?

Or do you have a traditional family theme? For example, my family traditionally served a potato-bread stuffing, mashed winter squash, Waldorf salad, and a marshmallow-cranberry-whipped cream salad. If you have family dishes that you MUST serve, jot them down now so you won’t forget.

Maybe you want what I call the new-fashioned traditional dinner. We started following this a few years ago when the old-fashioned dinner became too heavy and rich for us. A new-fashioned dinner includes all the traditional Thanksgiving flavors like pumpkin, cranberry, and turkey, but in a lighter version. So instead of the potato-bread stuffing I make apple-fennel stuffing. There is no green bean casserole but there is a mixed vegetable salad. Instead of cranberry sauce we go with the lower-sugar cranberry orange relish.

Of course, maybe you will be following an avant garde menu of your own. Don’t like turkey and stuffing? This might be a good time to create that complicated Indian dish you’ve been planning to cook. Or splurge on the Kobe beef you’ve been eyeing. After all, Thanksgiving is about food and family, not specific foods. Not specific family either. It’s a great time to invite friends and acquaintances to your home.

Determine any special diet considerations

Do you or any of your guests have special diet considerations? Is there a vegetarian or vegan on the guest list? Do your grandchildren have food allergies? Is there a diabetic in the group? Someone who needs to eat gluten-free? This is the time to make note of these considerations. After all, we want everyone to be able to enjoy the meal!

Decide who will bring what

Sometimes I do this step before I finalize the menu, and sometimes I do this step after I finalize the menu. It’s up to you, either can work well.

Once you have a basic theme identified, you can start “assigning” parts of the dinner. Just because you are hosting, doesn’t mean you have to do all the cooking. For example, when my children were young we lived a 6 hour drive from our families. We always went home for Thanksgiving, but I certainly didn’t drag a hot dish along with me. But I did make several breads to take along. Maybe one of your guests has a special recipe they like to make.

You will no doubt find that your guests with special diet considerations are more than happy to provide a dish specific to their needs. I personally am a vegetarian, but I do not like the turkey and stuffing analogs out there. So I always make a dish like Thanksgiving Bean Casserole that can serve as my main protein and as a side dish for everyone else.

Join us tomorrow as we consider some actual food menu ideas!

Don’t miss Planning Thanksgiving Dinner – Step One

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

November 12, 2015

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